Night Watch

China-North Korea: Chinese authorities took two steps that appear to be part of a program to restrain and modify the behavior of the North Korean leadership. First, China's Foreign Ministry called today for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Comment: This is not a new Chinese position because China and North Korea both have wanted,and probably gotten, assurances that the US stores no nuclear weapons in South Korea. There is no challenge to the US in this statement.

Relative to North Korea, the timing of today's statement represents an official Chinese warning to the North Korean leadership that it should not allow a nuclear device to be detonated. In short, the North Koreans have overplayed their  hauteur and aggravated their primary supporter by not paying attention.

Second, China has halted the repatriation of North Korean refugees/defectors apparently in reaction to the North's refusal to stop the space launch. Japanese media reported that China had been repatriating up to 30 North Korean defectors a day since the death of North Korean leader Kim Chong-il in December, but had recently stopped doing so.

According to a Chinese official, "North Korea failed to inform China of specific plans to launch its missile last Friday." The timing of the launch failure relative to the halt of repatriations is the basis for concluding the two events are linked.

Comment: The issue of repatriation of North Korean defectors is comparatively recent, arising only since the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994. For five decades only a handful of North Koreans defected, when Kim Il-sung was alive.

Defection attempts rose steadily when Kim Chong-il ruled mostly because he impoverished an already poor country and nobody liked him. A trickle of annual defections for 50 years rose to hundreds a year after 2000.  Some even crossed the vast minefields of the Demilitarized Zone to enter the South.

Despite the rising numbers of defectors, China insisted that South Korea evaluate them, accept those it found to be valuable and remove them from China as rapidly as possible.

As for the others, if South Korea would not accept them, China sent them back to the North. It steadfastly refused to build refugee camps, to provide aid or comfort, or to encourage refugees and defections in any way.

Chinese authorities also invited North Korean security agents to drag North Koreans found in Chinese border towns in chains back to North Korea, which they have done regularly for two decades. China reinforced its own border forces and insisted that North Korea add thousands of border guards to prevent refugees and defectors from entering China, to little avail.

Thus, a decision to permit North Korean defectors to stay in China for longer than a day or two represents a significant change in policy that had to be worked out with South Korea.

It does not mean that China will build and support refugee camps in Liaoning Province. It does mean that China will facilitate the processing and rapid movement of defectors to South Korea, instead of returning them to the North.

This change in policy represents China's encouragement of defections for the first time in two decades. The news will race across North Korea and will precipitate a brain drain. China is not pleased with the new leadership cabal in Pyongyang. Expect some high level leadership meetings.

India: Update. Indian officials postponed the launch today of the Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile due to bad weather. Authorities did not announce a new test date for the missile.

Afghanistan: Comment: The photos published by the Los Angeles Times have been covered extensively by the US press, except for a few minor issues not mentioned by any news services.

First of all, an Islamic suicide bomber is not someone who has abused his body, as some pundits opined today. On the contrary, he is a martyr, in fundamentalist theology. The American soldiers were not just defacing a dead human being; they were insulting an Islamic warrior.

But that is not a big deal for Muslims. They do the same and understand fighting and death. Fighters die. Winners gloat.

Even suicide bombers ought to be respected as warriors, but that means little, even to Afghans. Above all, they understand that death is an occupational hazard for a warrior. Plus they believe he gets his reward in heaven.

No American leader should apologize. An apology betrays a complete ignorance of the culture because the Afghans understand war: national and regional; tribal and clan; and village and family. Afghans consider an apology by a stronger power to be a sign of  weakness.

For example, the bombers were most likely kids taken from a madrasah in Pakistan, given rudimentary training, doped up and sent to die by their religious teachers and elders. In which case, no Afghans will lament the deaths. The US does not even know the nationality of the bombers. To whom should the US apologize?

The cultural and religious differences are valid. Fundamentalist Islamic values that encourage children to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers do not represent the mainstream of Muslim theology. Suicide bombings are denounced regularly in every meeting of Pakistani and Afghan Islamic scholars. However, they have never denounced the killing of  Americans, Jews and Christians. A US apologiy to people whom even Muslims consider extremists serves no point.

It might be some kind of epiphany for some news reporters that American soldiers are soldiers, who are not so different from Roman legionnaires. But in most of the world, including in the US outside of San Francisco or Los Angeles, everybody in every culture understands that gloating is part of winning after a battle, along with mourning the dead. So in a war,  a US apology for the death of an enemy fighter by his own hand also serves no point.

The Taliban have shown no special reverence for their suicide bombers in the past 11 years, unless they kill lots of Americans or unless an incident could be turned to some propaganda advantage.

US soldiers in Afghanistan are not placed in increased risk because of this incident. Most Afghans most likely will consider taking pictures of the lower half of a dissected body bewildering, if not sick. Any protests will be perfunctory. Protests over the dead never last more than a day or two, if they occur at all.

Defacing the Koran is a vastly more incendiary offense. These protests last for weeks.

After 11 years of US troops in a country and culture, Readers and citizens have a right to expect a deeper official understanding and better handling of these incidents. It did not happen in Vietnam and it is no better in Afghanistan.

Thanks to Brilliant and extremely well-informed Readers for Feedback about Afghan attitudes towards death and towards defacing the Koran.

Syria: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Beijing on 18 April. Al-Moallem said 250 U.N. observers is a reasonable and logical number to monitor a cease-fire in Syria. He said no more should be needed, adding that observers can use Syrian aircraft if necessary.

Comment: Turkish authorities and the overseas Syrian exile community have worked overtime to brand the Syrian government as perfidious and untrustworthy, violating the ceasefire. However, a few news services have penetrated the veil of deception and hyperbole to report that the ceasefire is holding generally, with a few exceptions.

Syria uses the Israeli tactic of asymmetric response. Syrian forces respond to opposition gunshots with artillery fire. Rocket attacks beget gunship attacks and so on. Syria announced that it would retaliate if fired upon when it agreed to the ceasefire.

One American news organization described the current situation as on the brink of civil war. The Syrian opposition holds no territory; has no dependable source of supply; exhibits no organizational discipline or coordination and cannot stand against any Syrian force. Those weaknesses signify that the opposition constitutes outlaws with guns. Not even their own Sunni population supports them in most of Syria.

The UN will not send 250 ceasefire monitors to Syria if there is no ceasefire. If the monitors arrive and deploy outside Damascus, Readers may conclude that the ceasefire is holding.

The US State Department mischaracterizes the UN operation as part of a peace plan. It is only a ceasefire plan.

End of NightWatch

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